And I’ll Take That House: A “Small World” Story
It’s not atypical for one’s teen years to be a time of discontent, but I was a teen who spent her formative years in Alaska where big waters, big mountains, big everything were the rule in some of the richest scenery in the world only to be drug kicking and screaming to Pennsylvania on the wheels of parental divorce. About the time I grew to love Pennsylvania’s softer, fog beribboned Appalachian Mountains, tumbling streams and woods carpeted with wildflowers, my stepfather got a new job and moved our family to my mother’s home state of Iowa. I was so disgusted with corn, corn, corn that I told my mother I just might die. Years went by and I did not see the beauty around me in the gently rolling southern Iowa hills, the red barns, the grazing cattle; the farm ponds and windmills because my heart broke for the sight of trees mirrored on crystal clear water, snowcapped mountains and the sound of the Yukon breaking up in the spring and the return of the swans. Still, even an artistic teenager can only maintain pure disdain so long and eventually, though I frequently told my mother that I would vacate the Hawkeye state the first second I could, I began to see some beauty around me.
Often on Saturday my mom and I would drive north on 169 to the small town of Winterset to do our weekly shopping. We drove by a white foursquare farmhouse with a bay window, gingerbread trimmed front porch, and a white fence bordered in the spring by an abundant bank of bridal wreath. Set on a hill, the house and property were graced by huge, old evergreen trees that all leaned northward, the history of southerly winds written in their dramatic northerly tilt. South of the house, beyond the bright red barn, was a huge pond with a picturesque windmill that sat on a finger of land that went out into the pond. I always eyed that place and it would make me smile. One Saturday, as we drove by the property, surprising me as much as they did my mother, these words escaped my smiling lips: “If I were ever to live in Iowa when I’m an adult, I’d want to live there.” I quickly qualified the appalling statement with a firm, “Which I never would do.”
I ended up going to college in Iowa because I wanted to be a teacher and at the time Iowa had the top rated teacher’s college in America. It was a tough time to get a teaching job and with a degree from this college you had first choice. Surprising only to inexperienced me, when I graduated I took a teaching job in northern Iowa because jobs were hard to come by and the first job I was offered was in Iowa. All through college, whenever I’d come home, I’d go by the house I loved and smile, and then instantly assure myself I was never going to end up living in the mountainless state.
But I met ‘this farmer’ during the summer I came home before I started my northern Iowa, teaching job. I was engaged before I headed north that fall. Paul had cattle and hogs, as well as crops, so it was tough for him to get away to see me. Unencumbered, I usually traveled the five hours home to spend the weekend with him. That October my very quiet man, after presenting me with a lovely diamond, asked me if I’d like to see where we were going to live. I was taken aback, as I thought that would be a joint decision. I calmed as he revealed in his laid back way that he lived at home for convenience because of all the livestock, which were his, but which were housed on his parent’s property. “They already had animals and the flies,” he explained with a twinkle in his eyes. “I thought if I ever met someone and got married, I didn’t want her to have to deal with the flies, so there are no animals at my place.” Charmed by this, I processed that he had ‘a place.’ Heart fluttering with a mixture of excitement and trepidation I said, “Yes, of course I wanted to see it!”
You already know the ending, but it is my very own, lovely, small world story. His place was the place—my Iowa dream place. And though I continued for years to yearn for mountains, many evenings in the warm months we would sit together on the porch swing and my quiet man, who knew I yearned for mountains would point out to me how the amazing bank of Iowa clouds with the sheet lightening dancing behind them looked a lot like mountains— and he was right.
And in another “small-world” event, my Minnesota college pal met my husband’s best friend at a church event. They fell in love, married and she moved to live and work in Madison County too so that I have a dear college friend nearby. We both started out teachers, then I became a journalist and writer, while she became the owner of an amazing greenhouse and garden business. We’re two transplants to a state we didn’t much care for who ended up neighbors in Madison County, Iowa where the clouds make mountains on stormy nights and love has made us happy to be Iowans.
Photo: My husband of 38 years poses with me on the steps of Arbor Lodge on our 30th wedding anniversary trip. We went to enjoy the trees!